the sunday soup sessions

ham & lentil soup with cheese on toast

One of the things I just love about Sydney winters is that, well, in the scheme of things they really do tend to be pretty mild. I mean the days are noticeably shorter than the lingering balmy evenings of summer and sure we do have wet spells with weeks of what feels like unending grey skies and rain but mostly we really can’t complain.

When there are sunny Saturdays just perfect for picnicking by the harbour, a chance to christen a new picnic blanket, try out a new salad and revel in the warmth of the winter suns caress on bare skin, it’s hard to get excited about something like soup. But when you wake up the next day to overcast skies and the threat of showers, you suddenly feel so glad that all you need to do today is potter around the house while dinner simmers away on the stove. Warming and filling your hearth with rich and comforting smells.

So do I have a soup for you. A soup that needs a good afternoon of occasional attention. A soup that is hearty and meaty and earthy and well just honest and good in a lentily kind of way. A simple soup that doesn’t need stock or lots of preparation. A simple soup that is special enough to serve up to guests. A soup that really just cooks itself. A soup that could easily be eaten on its own with a splash of parsley and lemon zest for freshness. A soup that is even more tasty when served with that quintessential study in toasty-oozy-crusty-cheesy goodness: the humble cheese on toast… all good things.

a sunday soup session dinner
proscuitto with olive oil & pepper
goats cheese stuffed olives
ham & lentil soup with cheese on toast
olive oil & macadamia brownies* with malted chocolate icecream**

*For the brownie recipe have a look HERE at The Traveler’s Lunchbox, I just upped the chocolate amount and subbed in Macadamias as my nut of choice.
**The malted chocolate icecream previously appeared on stonesoup HERE.

ham & lentil soup
serves 6-8

While ham and pea is the classic soup on which this idea was based, the lentils make for a far heartier and tastier option than your standard. If you don’t have access to Puy or French style lentils, feel free to substitute in whichever pulses you prefer but note that you may need to adjust the cooking time if you don’t want it to all cook down into a mush.

This time I happened to have some leg ham on the bone leftover from a certain Birthday celebration which worked a treat but I’ve also made it with a couple of ham hocks and probably prefer their texture but the flavour in both is great.

If you happen to have a few rinds of parmesan kicking around the fridge feel free to add them for some extra richness just remember to fish them out before you serve.

3T olive oil
200g (approx 4 rashers) bacon, cut into matchsticks
2 red onions, finely chopped
3 large carrots, finely chopped
4 sticks celery, finely chopped
2t cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic
1 x 400g can tomatoes
2 medium ham hocks or 1kg leg ham on the bone
3 sprigs rosemary
1-2 chunks parmesan rind, optional
350g puy or French style lentils
2T red wine vinegar
½ bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
zest 1 lemon
cheese on toast, to serve

Heat oil in a very large saucepan and fry bacon over a medium high heat until golden, reduce heat to medium and add onion, carrot and celery and cook covered, stirring periodically for 15 to 20mins or until vegetables are soft. Add cumin and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add tomatoes, 2L water, ham, rosemary and parmesan rinds and simmer for 3 hours or until ham is falling off the bone. Remove ham and rosemary stalks and allow to cool.

Meanwhile add lentils to the pot. Shred meat into chunks and discard skin and bones. Return meat to the pot and simmer for another hour or until the lentils are cooked to your liking. When you’re ready to serve finely chop the parsley and lemon together and season the soup well with s&p and vinegar. Ladle into warm soup bowls, top with lemon and parsley and pass cheese on toast cut into fingers separately.

cheese on toast
serves 2 as a stand alone meal or 4 as a side dish to soup

Adapted from the croque monsieur recipe by Emma Knowles in the June 2006 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

This has to be my all time favourite winter meal in a hurry. The perfect thing to tuck in to when you come home to a cold house with an appetite, not much time on your hands and a hankering for a glass of hearty red wine.

Feel free to play around with your cheese combination. A half-half mix of gruyere and parmesan is my favourite combining the luscious melting properties of the former with the flavour impact of the latter. But I have tried it with a single dose of each cheese and was pretty happy with the results.

If you don’t have any crème fraiche or light sour cream on hand don’t despair. You are really looking for something to moisten the cheese and keep it all together, I’ve had success with yoghurt, normal cream, ricotta, a dash of milk and even mayonnaise, just be sure to make sure your isn’t too mixture too wet.

If you don’t have an oven proof frying pan, cook for a little longer in the pan then transfer to a baking tray to finish in the oven. I know it seems like a bit of work for cheese on toast when you could normally just stick it under the grill but trust me the extra crispy base of your toast and the lovely crunchy cheese edges are well worth the effort.

50g gruyere, grated
50g parmesan, grated
100g crème fraiche or light sour cream (see note above)
2t Dijon mustard
2T olive oil
1T butter
2 large slices sourdough bread

Preheat your oven to 200C. Combine cheese, light sour cream and mustard in a small bowl and season. Place a small heatproof frying pan (large enough to hold the bread in a single layer) over a medium heat and add oil and butter. Spread cheese mixture evenly over the bread. When the butter is foaming add bread, cheese side up to the pan and cook for 3 minutes or until starting to brown. Transfer the frying pan to the oven and continue to cook for approx 5mins or until cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Serve immediately with a hearty glass of red and/or a bowl of soup.

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{ 2 comments }

Marysol July 22, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Oh sweet mother. It’s hot and humid in my corner of the world, and yet, I’m craving that soup and sandwich.
Your mouthwatering photography speaks volumes.

Ann August 12, 2008 at 6:42 pm

I have some bread with whole cloves of roated garlic embedded in it; I think it will be perfect to try this recipe out on. Thanks.

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